The U.S. Air Force has started conducting operational testing for a series of major upgrades to the F-22 Raptor, according to a new report by the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester.

The initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) for the Increment 3.2B upgrades began in September and is slated to wrap up in April, says the fiscal 2017 annual report by Robert Behler, the Department of Defense’s director of operational test and evaluation. A decision on whether to begin full-rate production of the upgrades is scheduled for July. 

An Air Force F-22 Raptor. Photo: Air Force.
An Air Force F-22 Raptor. Photo: Air Force.

Increment 3.2B will integrate two air-to-air missiles into the stealthy fighter: the AIM-120D Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) and the short-range AIM-9X Sidewinder, both built by Raytheon [RTN]. The F-22, whose prime contractor is Lockheed Martin [LMT], currently uses older, less capable versions of each missile: the AIM-120C and the AIM-9M.

Increment 3.2B will also improve the F-22’s electronic protection, emitter geolocation, intra-flight data link and weapons integration and use.

One potential complication highlighted in the report is that the some automated tests assets at the Nevada Test and Training Range were not available when IOT&E began. As a result, more “human intervention” by range training officers may be required, which could increase the risk of error and the likelihood that missions will have to be re-flown, the report says.

Increment 3.2B completed developmental testing in August.

The F-22 achieved its initial operational capability in 2005. Its other weapons include a General Dynamics [GD] M61A1 20 mm Gatling gun and two air-to-ground weapons: the Boeing [BA] 1,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition and the Boeing 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb Increment 1.

In November, the F-22 conducted its first mission in Afghanistan by dropping Small Diameter Bombs on a Taliban opium processing plant (Defense Daily, Nov. 20, 2017).